Monthly Archives: August 2006

The Money Train: A Rails “E-Commerce Recipes” book

The Money Train: A Rails “E-Commerce Recipes” book.

The Money Train is a great book being written by Benjamin Curtis about building e-commerce sites using Ruby on Rails. It's released as a 'beta book' meaning you can buy and read it in PDF form straight away, but over time you'll get tons of free updates and eventually the full, completed book (in PDF format). Even better, it's only $12!

It has some pretty cool 'e-commerce recipes' in it, so it's worth getting for those. It covers the basic such as products, variants of products, related products, and customer reviews.. through to gift certificates, shipping, carts, payment processing, and affiliate referrals. Over time it could turn into a true e-commerce bible, so for $12, it's worth having another excellent resource on hand. Thumbs up to Ben!  [Ruby Inside]

Jobs Boards: A shotgun or a rifle?

Jobs Boards: A shotgun or a rifle?.

The problem with huge job boards like Monster or the aggregation that Arrington envisions: There are too many ads. It’s a shotgun approach. If you want to hire just anyone, that will work. But if you want to hire the right person then you’ll need to do something different to reach that person. You need to hang out where they hang out. You need to like what they like. You need to aim accurately. Throw away the shutgun and strap on the rifle.

Targeted individual job boards work because they speak to specific audiences. We’re picky about which sites are part of our Job Board network (Signal vs. Noise, Zeldman.com, A List Apart, and the Ruby on Rails Weblog). The people who read these sites care about beautiful code and beautiful design. If you care about these things — and you want to reach people who care about these things — then you post a job on our job board.

If you want to reach executives interested in broadband, wireless, and technology, you post on the GigaOm Jobs board. If you want to reach someone interested in new company/product launches and the other stuff that is posted on TechCrunch, you post on the CrunchBoard. Yes, there’s some overlap between those audiences. But there are also significant differences.

Remember, where you post your job says a lot about your company and the kind of people you want to attract. If you want to toss your job in front of anyone and everyone, post it at Monster.com. If you want to place your job carefully and in front of the right people who care what you care about, then post it on the job board that most accurately reflects your company’s attitude/approach. [Signal vs. Noise]

Cooper's office phone concept

Cooper's office phone concept.

 Who likes their office phone? [no one raises their hands] Cooper believes they have the answer and have put their money where their concept is. Well, at least it appears they have a UI concept that’s built out.

The UI is scroll wheel, touch screen, and voice recognition based. The interface appears to be monochromatic. It’s hard to tell if it’s good without using it, but it looks like an interesting effort on the surface. I’m glad someone’s thinking about better ways to design a multi-line, multi-extension office phone system.

If you were tasked with redesigning the corporate office phone system from scratch what would you focus on? What’s key? What’s not? What’s overlooked? What’s missing? What stays and what goes? What annoys you most about the office phones you’ve used?  [Signal vs. Noise]

No safer today

No safer today.

A very interesting interview with Michael Scheuer who, until he
resigned in 2004, was a 22-year veteran with the CIA, he answers six
questions:

  1. We're coming up on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Is the country safer or more vulnerable to terrorism?
  2. Is Al Qaeda stronger or weaker than it was five years ago?
  3. Given all this, why hasn't there been an attack on the United States for the past five years?
  4. Has the war in Iraq helped or hurt in the fight against terrorism?
  5. Things seemed to have turned for the worse in Afghanistan too. What's your take on the situation there?
  6. Has the war in Lebanon also been a plus for the jihadists?

His answers seem credible to me and damning for our foreign policy
decisions (by our I generally mean US decisions but the UK seems
destiny to slavishly follow suit, hence: our). I think his answer to
the supplementary question “What should we do now?” is worth quoting in
it's entirety:

This may be a country bumpkin approach, but the truth is the best place to start. We need to acknowledge that we are at war, not because of who we are, but because of what we do
[Ed: my emphasis]. We are confronting a jihad that is inspired by the
tangible and visible impact of our policies. People are willing to die
for that, and we're not going to win by killing them off one by one. We
have a dozen years of reliable polling in the Middle East, and it shows
overwhelming hostility to our policies—and at the same time it shows
majorities that admire the way we live, our ability to feed and clothe
our children and find work. We need to tell the truth to set the stage
for a discussion of our foreign policy.

At the core
of the debate is oil. As long as we and our allies are dependent on
Gulf oil, we can't do anything about the perception that we support
Arab tyranny—the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, and other regimes in the region.
Without the problem of oil, who cares who rules Saudi Arabia? If we
solved the oil problem, we could back away from the contradiction of
being democracy promoters and tyranny protectors. We should have
started on this back in 1973, at the time of the first Arab oil
embargo, but we've never moved away from our dependence. As it stands,
we are going to have to fight wars if anything endangers the oil supply
in the Middle East.

What you want with foreign policy
is options. Right now we don't have options because our economy and our
allies' economies are dependent on Middle East oil. What benefit do we
get by letting China commit genocide-by-inundation by moving thousands
and thousands of Han Chinese to overcome the dominance of Muslim
Uighurs? What do we get out of supporting Putin in Chechnya? He may
need to do it to maintain his country, but we don't need to support
what looks like a rape, pillage, and kill campaign against Muslims. The
other area is Israel and Palestine. We're not going to abandon the
Israelis but we need to reestablish the relationship so it looks like
we're the great power and they're our ally, and not the other way
around. We need to create a situation where moderate Muslims can
express support for the United States without being laughed off the
block.

There is a risk, I guess, that you listen to the “experts” who
support your cause and denounce those who don't. I acknowledge that.
But those people seem most credible to me who acknowledge that, in a
Newtonian sense, there is no reaction without action. I believe it is our actions
abroad that lead us down the path we are on and things are getting
consistently worse. To believe that they will get better by continuing
to do the same things seems like folly to me.   [Curiouser and Curiouser!]

Skype Call Traced

Skype Call Traced.

Kobi Alexander fled the United States ten days ago. He was tracked down in Sri Lanka via a Skype call:

According to the report, Alexander was located after making a one-minute call via the online telephone Skype service. The call, made from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, alerted intelligence agencies to his presence in the country.

Ars Technica explains:

The fugitive former CEO may have been convinced that using Skype made him safe from tracking, but he — and everyone else that believes VoIP is inherently more secure than a landline — was wrong. Tracking anonymous peer-to-peer VoIP traffic over the Internet is possible (PDF). In fact, it can be done even if the parties have taken some steps to disguise the traffic.

Let this be a warning to all of you who thought Skype was anonymous.  [Schneier on Security]

Eric Sink is a marketing genius!

Eric Sink is a marketing genius!.

I’m downloading IE 7, RC1 and while I’m doing that I’m reading some blogs. Translation: avoiding answering email. I hate email. I hate email. I hate email.

This morning Maryam and I got up to speak to marketing executives from a bunch of big companies (as big as Microsoft). They were asking: “how do you get people talking about them?”

So, it’s very good that I have this to point to today. Actually, Eric Sink is a developer, but he plays a marketing genius on the blogs. Seriously, his post on how to get people talking about your product is RIGHT ON!

I’m sending it to everyone at PodTech.

When I said recently “Microsoft doesn’t understand small things” this is EXACTLY what I was talking about.

How did I start my blog? By publishing for two people. I didn’t go out and try to build a huge audience.  
[Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger]

Feel the pain…

Feel the pain….

Dare wrote a post talking about the advisability of making developers do operations.

Which is really part of a philosophical question…

When you're setting up a software organization, how much specialization should you have, and where you should you draw the lines around the responsibilities of the various groups?

Some orgs take a very generalized view of what people own, and others take a very specialized view. I've worked in both sorts of environments.

I've worked for a startup where, as a developer, I wrote the code, tested the code, built the code, made tapes to ship out to customers, and answered customer support calls.

And I've worked in other organizations where the job of developer was to implement what was written down in the spec and pass it off to the QA org. Those orgs typically had structures and policies designed to insulate the developers, so they wouldn't be distracted.

That eliminated a bunch of the outside noise that they would otherwise have to deal with, and make them more efficient at getting their development work done.

And how did those efficient organizations fare in their products?

Not very well.

They were reasonably good at shipping software, but their software didn't turn out to be very good for users. New updates didn't address issues that users had been hitting. New features were hard to use and/or didn't hit the sweet spot. They answered questions that users didn't ask.

All of this was because the developers were out of touch with people who had to deal with their software. They didn't feel the pain that the users were experiencing setting up their software. They didn't feel the pain when a bug in the software meant that the user's business was loosing money. And they didn't understand why users were having trouble using features that seemed obvious to them.

All that happened in DevDiv, and the issues showed up in our customer satisfaction numbers. So, it was decided to let developers (and the testers, and PMs…) talk directly with customers.

There was a fair amount of angst around this decision. It would take up too much dev time. Developers would insult customers. Customers didn't know enough to give good feedback.

But it turned out that all of those things were wrong. The developers liked to solve problems, and they also liked to help people. They remotely debugged customer issues on other continents. And they listened very closely to the detailed feedback customers gave about how the current software didn't meet business needs and what was good and bad about future plans.

And the organization adapted what they were planning, so that it addressed the areas that needed addressing.

Distraction is not the enemy. Pain is not the enemy. Pain is to be embraced, because only through feeling pain are you motivated to make it go away. [Eric Gunnerson's C# Compendium]

There's got to be a way to do this…

There's got to be a way to do this….

Here's what I want to be able to do.

We've got a ton of books in the Fog Creek library, in no particular order, and it's gotten to the point where it's actually easier to order a new copy of a book from Amazon than to find a book we already have!

What I'm looking for is software that will let me scan in the barcodes on all these books, you know, with the ISBN numbers, and then it will look them up online somewhere and download card catalog information and the Library of Congress number, and add this information to a database, and print out a little sticker on the spot with a card catalog number that I can put on the spine so that the books can be shelved like in a real library, and found again easily.

Do you know of anything that can do this?  [Joel on Software]